MAME DIOUF’S first ever Premier League brace recorded his side back-to-back wins for the first time this season and in the process ensured a triumphant end to the calendar year.
The Senegalese international was a menace to the West Brom backline throughout the encounter and opened his account for the afternoon with a clinically taken strike six minutes into the second half after Erik Pieters picked him out inside the penalty area.
His second, 15 minutes later, was far more fortuitous however, with Marko Arnautovic’s long range strike deflecting off the former Hanover ace and wrong-footing ex-Potters ‘keeper and current England international Ben Foster.
That strike was undoubtedly a killer blow to Albion’s hopes of claiming something from the game, as they had in fact looked the more likely of the two teams to score the second goal of the game.
Substitute Saido Berahino went close to levelling matters with a close range effort that clipped the post, just moments after skipper Chris Brunt whistled an effort inches wide of Asmir Begovic’s upright from 30-yards.
They were forced to rue those missed opportunities when Diouf inadvertently diverted Arnautovic’s strike home 25 minutes from time to inflict more misery upon the Albion faithful, who had been hoping their side would be able to build upon their three match unbeaten run in the Potteries.
Prior to kick-off Hughes was enforced into making one change from the team that recorded a superb 1-0 victory over Everton at Goodison Park on Boxing Day as Peter Crouch returned to the team at the expense of Jonathan Walters.
Alan Irvine opted to make four changes to his side dropping the likes of Berahino and Youssuf Mulumbu, as he demanded an immediate response to their 3-1 thumping by Manchester City at the Hawthorns 48 hours earlier.
The encounter, which was played out in typically cold wintery conditions at the Britannia Stadium, very nearly got off to a dramatic start when Glenn Whelan appeared to have been tripped inside the area only for referee Roger East to wave play on.
Bojan, the match-winner on Merseyside on Boxing Day, went agonisingly close to netting his second goal in as many games when he fired a crisp strike marginally wide of goal in the ninth minute, after Albion’s backline had failed to clear their lines.
Stoke huffed and puffed against a seemingly well organised Baggies defence, marshalled by the experienced Joleon Lescott, whilst the pace of Stephane Sessegnon and Brown Ideye provided plenty to ponder for Ryan Shawcross and co.
Shawcross, being partnered once again by Marc Muniesa, did his chances of forcing himself back into the England fold absolutely no harm with another superb performance that warranted a second successive clean sheet.
As expected Albion were neat and tidy on the ball, but truth be told they appeared to lack any real cutting edge, particularly in the final third of the pitch.
Ten million pound summer signing Ideye tested Begovic from an acute angle after Sessegnon cleverly freed him down the left, whilst James Morrison and Brunt both fired wide from range after growing frustrated by the solid Stoke rearguard.
At the other end, the Potters weren’t having much joy neither. Arnautovic hammered an effort over from the edge of the penalty area, just moments after Glenn Whelan struck a strike straight down the throat of Foster.
Neither manager opted to make any changes during the break – instead keeping faith with the elevens they selected just an hour earlier.
You always sensed the first goal would be paramount to the outcome of the game, and so it proved. Thankfully for the majority of supporters inside the stadium it was the home side who went on to claim it.
Once again Bojan was the architect. The matador provided a sublime ball out wide to Pieters, the Dutchman then delivered the ball into the path of Diouf, he took one touch and hammered home from 15-yards, leaving Foster helpless.
Surprisingly, the hosts failed to use that to their advantage, and it actually ignited the visitors’ best spell of the clash.
Berahino responded quickest to Begovic’s save and slid the ball at the post, when he will have felt aggrieved not to have hit the back of the net.
A succession of corners caused problems, but Shawcross and Muniesa both threw their bodies on the line to deny Lescott and Berahino who were desperately looking to pull their side back on level terms.
As West Brom pushed, gaps began to appear, and a classic counter-attack effectively put the game to bed.
Arnautovic stormed forward, Nzonzi picked him out, and his thunderous effort looked likely to trouble Foster, until Diouf diverted the ball into the opposite direction which left Foster stranded in goal.
It was always going to be too much to ask for Albion to bounce back from that blow, and they were fortunate that more goals weren’t added to the tally late on as Arnautovic and Nzonzi both went close during the final stages.